Speech Melba Society

Safe, secure and locked up

Illustration: Mihir Balantrapu  

Several delightful nuggets of advice were handed out to women over the past few weeks. The first came from the Supreme Court. Deliberating upon the ongoing farmers’ protest, the eminent jurists demanded to know why women, children and old people were being “kept” in the protests — evoking an image of goats tethered to a fence. It then went on to make the “sending back” of women, old people and children one of the conditions upon which to build future consensus.

While the ostensible motivation for these diktats is ‘protection’, it comes from a place of complete incomprehension of the idea of agency. Of the fact that women must and will make their own decisions about whether to protest or not, and when and where and how they will do so.

More importantly, it displays a sad ignorance about the myriad ways in which women are an integral part of the farming community. Just the clichéd photograph of the rows of colourful sari-clad bodies bent double in paddy fields — which often acts as the de facto stock image for Indian farming — should establish that women can no more be removed from the occupation of farming than they can from the protest sites where they gather to fight against what they believe might harm their interests.

As landless labourers, as owners of small land holdings, as co-workers on family farms, women are deeply impacted by changes in farming laws and it is entirely apposite that they are protesting. But more important, it is a woman’s prerogative to join any protest, whether or not she is connected to it. Article 19 of India’s Constitution allows its citizens to move freely across India and to assemble anywhere peaceably and without arms. It does not leave women out of the definition of ‘citizens’.

The second helpful tip came from Chandramukhi Devi, a member of the National Commission for Women, after another horrific rape and murder in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, this time in a temple. Ms Devi suggested that the woman could have avoided being raped had she not gone out in the evening. Or if she had been accompanied perhaps by a child.

So, we now have more points added to the list of things women must do to avoid rape. Besides not eating noodles, not wearing jeans, not using cell-phones, and not stepping out after dark, they must also keep some manner of child handy. Almost like a pepper spray substitute.

Finally, to make our bundle of happiness complete, we had Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan propose a new system whereby a woman stepping out of home for work will have to register at a police station and be tracked for her own safety.

Clearly, the many well-wishers of women do not see the thin line between protection and policing. Nor do they realise the extraordinary degree to which such a policy can be misused, given the ethical track record of the country’s police. In fact, what is most amusing is the amount of trust being placed in a force whose first response to rape complaints is invariably great reluctance to register an FIR. And who have been known to help parents track down, sometimes with fatal result, adult sons and daughters who have dared to marry outside their caste.

In these helpful proposals, what’s completely missing is any reference to men — the segment of the population that is most often responsible for rape, assault and murder. Neither Ms Devi nor Mr Chouhan suggest that men stay indoors after dark to avoid the temptation to rape. Or that they wear a tiny tracking device that lets cops (and wives) know exactly where they are every minute. Nor have khap panchayats weighed in with hints about the pasta or pyjamas men must avoid to help keep their raging libido in check.

Given this lacuna, I am seriously considering appealing to the highest court of the land with a PIL. In which I request that their worships pay some attention also to the not-so-fair sex. Perhaps a ruling that says all men must mandatorily forward their WhatsApp chats to their mothers. Not only will those sleazy upskirt forwards mysteriously cease, desi moms might finally be eager and willing to give their sons that long overdue kick in the pants.

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 7:35:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/safe-secure-and-locked-up/article33633188.ece

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